Pho Kim – Calgary, AB

Pho Kim
1511 Centre B Street NW
Calgary, AB T2M 2R5
Open 7 days a week till 10pm – til 12am on Fri/Sat
(hours have changed recently, please check)
September 2008 re-visit post here

Original post below:

No two palettes are ever really the same. When comparing personal preference on something as varied as Pho, there really is no true way of determining which bowl is better. It’s all a matter of what suits you best.

Pho Kim is located in an old house just off of Centre Street, on a narrow strip just north of Chinatown and downtown Calgary, in an area with a high concentration of Vietnamese restaurants. I was first made aware of it by some Vietnamese friends, who prefered their Pho Tai – one of the authentic quality tests of a Pho establishement, and the taro root bubble tea (complete unauthentic, Taiwanese in origin).

As far as I’ve found, all Vietnamese restaurants generally have one or two excellent dishes on their otherwise extensive menus. Rarely have a found an establishment that was capable of delivering a consistently solid menu, and certainly not in Calgary. While this is positive in the sense that every restaurant has a dish worth eating, it also means that many establishments require a fair amount of trial and error before you settle on a dish worth repeating. That trial and error may not always be worth the investment.

One of my own personal favorites, no matter how westernized it is, is Pho Sate. I use this as a key taste test for determining my favorite Vietnamese restaurants. The Pho Sate at Pho Kim is terrible. Watery, weak, topped with chili oil and peanuts, it lacks the body and complex flavours i expect out of a Pho Sate. While i look for the blend of spicy and sweet, their Sate reminds me of dirty dish water, covered up with some spicy and nutty notes. I find the Pho Tai branch of soups to be average, with most of the value coming from quantity over quality. While the spring rolls are ok, the Bun falls on the small side. Bun Bo Xue was definitely a decent bowl of soup, but one is not always in the mood for spaghetti noodles.

However, all is not lost. There is one dish at Pho Kim that is worth revisting time and time again – in fact, on a cold, grey, wet, or a slightly down day, i find myself there all the time asking for the same thing. It is the Special Beef Flank Spicy Soup – 17A. For $7.85, it is a large bowl of rich beef broth, with many large chunks of fatty flank, large carrots, onions, greens, and noodles. More similar to a Vietnamese stew than Pho, this soup carries heat, complexity, and a tremendous depth of flavour that lasts with you throughout the day. It is, what i currently consider, my favorite bowl of Vietnamese Soup in Calgary.

Considering the sheer volume of Vietnamese Pho restaurants in Calgary, it isn’t surprising if you regularly find yourself at different establishments from week to week. If you hate to waste a meal on something you dislike, it is important to find those key dishes that work for you at different establishments. If you ever find yourself at Pho Kim, try the 17A. It suits my preferences perfectly – it may suit yours as well.

Pho Kim on Urbanspoon

7 thoughts on “Pho Kim – Calgary, AB

  1. Interesting discussion on pho. I was a former Pho Kim lover until I went there recently. My favourite Pho was also the Pho Sate and it was bland bland bland. You couldn’t have described it better.

    I used to love Pho Hoai but recently found a cockroach in a friend’s soup. Sigh. I guess there just aren’t any great pho places around anymore. I’ve heard great things about some of the establishments on International Ave (17th Ave) but it is just too damn far away!

  2. Thanks for your comment Russ. In terms of Pho Sate, there are several establishments around that do a good job. Of course, it all depends on what your personal taste is. By my estimation, Pho Sate in Calgary can be lumped into several categories. One is the thin, watery version (which we both seem to dislike). One is the “coconut milk” version, which is creamy, spicy, and rich. There is the spicy peanut version, and the last is the thick Pho Sate, which has a thick consistency, with some heat, and strong spice and a nuoc mam/nam pla undertone (fish sauce). If you like the coconut milk version, try Pho Que Hoang in Franklin Mall (behind T&T). Peanut version, Pho Dau Bo on International Ave. If you like the thick Sate version, try Noodle King, or Saigon Y2K. I like Noodle King better, and i like Pho Dau Bo better as well, but all of these are “acceptable” options in a pinch.

  3. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll be sure to check them out. I’ve heard great great things about Noodle King from a Vietnamese friend of mine. Interesting that you like Saigon Y2K’s pho. I always find it quite overpriced, particularly as it only comes in one size. That being said, I go there quite often as there really aren’t a ton of Vietnamese places in the NW. I tend to get the Pork/Spring Roll/Vermicelli dish as it is a pretty good value. I am looking forward to reading about your future food adventures.

  4. I like their Pho Satay, not their normal Pho. Their normal Pho is a bit…lacking. But you’re right, there aren’t a lot of choices in the NW.

  5. Pingback: Foodosophy Restaurant Update - September 2008 « Eat.Sleep..Dream…Food

  6. Totally agree with your Pho Sate comments. Been a while since I’ve visited this restaurant. Will have to do so again soon. You should visit Pho Vietnam in Transcanada Mall (16th ave and 52nd st), that’s my favourite place for Sate (of the peanut variety).

  7. Golden Bell has a decent Peanut based broth and their version with bbq Pork is quite delicious (though slightly sweet, which takes getting used to). For thick style I prefer Saigon Y2K (they used to only make the thin-style, and it was terrible, but they got a new cook and it has made all the difference). For pleasant and refined but somewhat boring coconut-milk style try Bagolac.

    The best ice coffee in town is at Co Co Garden in Forest Lawn…Pho Sate is thin-style but tastier than most.

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